Israel's School and Therapy Update *Summer 2015*

I've been waiting to write this out until I had a completed update to give you guys! (If you're new to the blog/ our family, our oldest son Israel has cerebral palsy).

When we knew we were moving to the city, we talked with a few friends who had kids with special needs in New York. We were warned that the process to obtain services was lengthy and that we would need to be prepared to advocate for Israel, and we might possibly need to hire an attorney. Our IEP team in Alabama was fabulous and did updated assessments on Israel before we moved, because we hoped that would speed up the process for us.

In New York, they have two rounds of open enrollment for pre-k students. The first round was in the spring and the second round was from June 22 - July 10. The second round included schools that didn't get filled up the first time, and new schools that were added to the list. In the second round, there was only ONE school in our neighborhood on the list! I spoke to several NYC school board employees before we moved, and was told conflicting information by every one. One person told me that Israel might not get into pre-k because we missed the first deadline, but it was possible he could at least get home services (I REALLY NEED HIM TO GO TO SCHOOL!). One person suggested that I call every pre-k in our neighborhood to find out 1. if they were handicap accessible (because legally they don't have to be) and 2. if they had an open spot/ could I be added to the waitlist. I started doing that and the first school I called said that I can't just be added to the waitlist if my child had special needs - they would need to know what services he needed and if he would have a one to one assistant.

On June 22 I called the school board and left messages, as I was trying to navigate how to find the right pre-k for Israel. I wasn't getting anywhere, so I decided to march down to the office and talk to someone in person. I didn't have to wait too long until two very helpful and enthusiastic workers looked over his paperwork. They were so appreciative of our Alabama IEP team because they had the updated assessments and a very clear IEP. They immediately connected me with the United Cerebral Palsy in Brooklyn and we had an appointment for the next week to look at the pre-k there.

Israel had been in an "inclusive" pre-k in Alabama, which meant that the class was typically developing kids, and he was the only special needs kid in there. I loved this model because he was able to learn from and observe the kids. He did attend the UCP daycare in Alabama twice per week, but the classroom was a mix of kids with varying abilities and development stages, and so Israel was not at the same developmental stage with every kid there. I loved this model too! Israel wasn't at either end of the developmental spectrum there, but he fit right in and the teachers were fantastic and so patient with him!

Anyways, when we visited the Brooklyn UCP I had very mixed feelings. They keep the kids separated in classrooms according to ability. There's a classroom for kids who are all nonverbal and nonambulatory, etc. We saw a few classrooms where it seemed like there was more of a mix of stages, but it was pretty clear by looking in each classroom what each one's challenge area was. There were classrooms where the teachers were very friendly and even invited us in to play for a few minutes, and some classrooms where the teachers didn't even acknowledge us. The teachers and students are so diverse- speaking different languages and from completely different ethnic and cultural backgrounds! We went to one classroom where there was a male lead teacher and the class was doing a little musical parade around the room. They invited Israel in, and he walked around holding a teacher's hand and a tambourine. He LOVED it in there and I appreciated that the teachers immediately included him. That class was all semi-verbal kids and all of them are ambulatory. We were so excited that this class had an opening for the fall and he will be in it come September!

After we left UCP and were offered a spot in that class, I had really mixed feelings for about a day. I really thought Israel would be in a more inclusive setting. Will and I talked about it, and he helped me see the positives of the situation. Being at the UCP pre-k means that there are trained professionals in the class who are all prepared to help kids with special needs meet their developmental goals. There is an amazing therapy room and there's even a pool in the building for weekly water therapy! (Part of his school packing list is a bathing suit and swim diapers!). All this to say... we are excited and at peace about this next season for Israel and his new school. I'll give more updates on that when he starts September 9!

On the therapy front, we have been using Sensory Freeway since July 2. For the first few weeks, we were paying for his therapy to go twice per week for one hour of PT and OT. When I had a meeting to go over Israel's fall IEP at the school board, I was in a feisty mood and decided that I would sit there until we had some summer services worked out for Israel! I pulled up the IDEA 2004 law on my phone and pretty much demanded that they cover his therapy services for summer, as it was my understanding that an IEP is a legal document and since our Alabama IEP said that he would get continuing services, then he should be getting them paid for by NY! Well... that meeting lasted for two hours and several specialists were called in, but God was faithful and the school board was gracious. Israel is getting MORE services than we had been receiving in Alabama (3 PT, 3 ST, and 2 OT per week) and he started getting all of those at Sensory Freeway, paid for by the school board, at the end of July and until August 26.

Three days per week we trekked the 12 blocks down for his therapy, and Israel developed great relationships with his summer therapy team (he'll get new therapists at school in a few weeks). This summer he started saying several new words, started cruising along furniture, rolled over, put himself in the all -fours position, and pulled all the way to stand! It was a HUGE summer for our boy and we were blown away by the immense progress in just a few short weeks! I can tell that having therapy so often is going to be really beneficial to his growth and development.

We had our last day at therapy yesterday and I'm just so thankful for this summer and for the easiness of the transition. When I think about my anxiety in May and early June, 99% of my worries were about Israel and how we would find a school and therapy team for him. God provided for our needs and the fact that he hasn't skipped a beat but has made tremendous milestones has been just the encouragement that our hearts needed. In a bit of transparency, the other day we were both feeling a little discouraged and when Israel pulled to stand, it was just the boost we needed to show us that we are here for a purpose and God is doing big things in all of our family members - we were brought to New York for each one of us to thrive under God's plan, Israel included!

So I'd say this was a successful summer. I learned that sometimes you have to put on your social worker face and make the phone calls and sit in the meetings long enough to get what you want, and sometimes you have to walk lots of blocks and make sacrifices but they will be worth it. I'm so proud of Israel and cannot wait to see the ways that he continues to grow and thrive. 


  1. I am new to your blog and I am very impressed with your persistence when it comes to teaching and helping your son grow. I can relate, as my younger brother has cerebral palsy. So far in his life he has yet to attend some sort of public school, but now I am convinced that he definitely will someday.

    Brendon Hudgins @ MedCare Pediatric


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